Summer Blog Post Ten

Bloomsday: Joyce, Wilde and Company; Football 2014 continued

Summer Blog Post Ten

Summer Blog Post Ten

Dear readers of my blog,

today is “Bloomsday”, now universally celebrated by fans of James Joyce's novel Ulysses as the festival of a single day in the Dublin of 1904. Eighteen years ago, I was invited to speak to an audience at Nuremberg about the third chapter, entitled “Proteus”. Then, I still travelled from Münster in Westphalia to whatever haunts I was asked to share with readers of James Joyce. At the time, I had already realized that this period of my life was running out of steam for I earned hardly anything from the proceeds of my pen as translator and writer of biographies – the first one of which on Oscar Wilde had been published in September 2000. So the contact with Maria Eger at Nuremberg started by a phone call of hers some time earlier was rewarding in the sense that I felt my hobby-horse was going to remain one in the future and that I would not be obliged to toe the academic as well as the commercial line for much longer.

Exhilarated by the perspective of doing what I wanted to do, I also wrote a poem to introduce my talk. Here it is: To this day most of my occasional poems have not seen the light of day, while a blog provides me with a good opportunity to combine literary interests in Wilde and Joyce as well as others such as politics and football.

Essay

Try of attempt to understand why

entering Joyce’s labyrinth was tempting

at first and then proved so rewarding.

Others may do some reconstruction work for you –

you only pick up the crumbs

left lying under the tripod

just beside the electric fire

shaded by two giant grandfather chairs.

 

London SW17 Tooting that is with a view to

community lawns tossing heads of passers-by

while talk ranged widely on books and events

back in 1962 when Ulysses was deemed

obscene and Wilde’s surviving son feared a row

over his father’s uncensored letters and a

Belfast-born poet-cum-broadcaster flew into Dublin

to cover “Joyce Week” at the Martello Tower.

 

Shaving outside at a campsite overlooking Mentone

the bowl Buck Mulligan used was palpable in June

1990 and walking the beautiful sands of Juist

the longest of the East Frisian Islands

brought back Stephen Dedalus sinking in

off Sandymount Strand on 16 June 1904

the very day when the first electric tram ran to

and from Rostock Station on the Baltic Sea.

 

Connections such as these purely personal

or even casual ones make up for confusion

that assails you on entering the sequence

of Joyce’s sentence. Memory is imagination

is fun in reading Ulysses is no man’s land

people over time and multifariously

regardless who starts the book where

how and why. You simply go ahead and try!

Münster, 29 May 2001

I did return to Nuremberg on several occasion to speak on Victor Hugo and James Joyce as well as Edgar Allan Poe in 2002, 2004, and 2009 but never did I talk on Oscar Wilde in and around the hospitable capital of Franconia. Maria Eger has continued to contact me for either advice or information, and she also recommended the Leipzig artist Ulrich Hoepfner to me whose collage work has since 2018 enriched the Oscar Wilde calendars. In 2004, for the 100th anniversary of the historical “Bloomsday”, I stayed a few nights in a hotel close to the station where all the match-winning sides of the Euro in Portugal rode past in their cars after winning a game, so that my passion for football is also closely linked with Nuremberg.

Leer, Sunday, 16th June 2019



20

Now, having finally brought up-to-date my World Cup diary first kept in a small booklet then typed into a computer file ever since Friday, 28th June 2014, I can both look forward to today’s Netherlands vs. Mexico match and look back to an issue of L’Équipe I bought at Vienna and kept on purpose since it contained a facsimile reprint in black and white of the first page that appeared on Monday, 1st August 1966. This was just two days after the World Cup Final at Wembley, and the headline ran as follows: “England True Champion. Virtual Score: 2-1 – The 3 last goals disputable”.

In fact, the image placed just beneath that headline shows Karlheinz Schnellinger, the German defender playing in the Serie A even then, holding the ball it seems almost in his arm. Very shortly after the moment captured in that still, he would have dropped the ball, so as to allow Wolfgang Weber, placed further right even than his skipper Uwe Seeler and Helmut Haller, to score. The short article accompanying that picture – which had been evoked, though not discussed at length by Albrecht Sonntag in one of his earlier contributions on the way the French viewed that final – bears the title: “The German equalizer was not legitimate”. There was a free kick, the article runs, which reached the German no. ten, Held who failed to hit the target with Schnellinger intervening by means of handball so as to deflect the ball towards Weber. “Schnellinger’s handball ought to have led to disallowing the goal. There wouldn’t have been any extra-time.” And there would not have been a Wembley goal, the one which is still contested, either, nor the last which was scored by Geoff Hurst when fans were already jumping across the low perimeter wall and flooding the pitch.

       Having watched the DVD of that final several times, I haven’t yet stopped the showing at either of the disputable scenes in order to analyse them more closely.[1] What I have become aware of, though, was that the referee must have blown his whistle at some stage, so that the English reporter could eject his famous “It’s all over! It’s all over!” recounted to me by a friend from York, England, who from the entire match only recalled that particular sentence – not even the torrential rain. Subsequently to or simultaneously with that shout, people can be seen invading the pitch with Hurst pursuing a long ball and kicking it into the back of the net.

       Now for The Netherlands vs. Mexico match. Clearly the favourites for a fourth victory in a row, a feat that the Colombians have already achieved and which Argentina and Belgium could also accomplish, the Dutch need to be very concentrated in defence and ever alert to profit from the few chances they are going to get against Latin opposition. Like Chile, Mexico has been a formidable rival for hosts Brazil, holding them to a goalless draw which some observers considered a fascinating game, siding perhaps with former German international and TV expert Mehmet Scholl who likes clashes where tactics are brushed aside, when it is the pure clash of will and technical brilliance.

Recalling what I once read about Argentinian local derbies, I must say I prefer matches where less personal and emotional investment on the part of the players allows them to play football as they have been training to do. Easily, winning such a clash could result in their losing all their emotional and physical energies for further games. I have a theory that Brunswick of the German teams relegated from Bundesliga last season lost its last five matches running for the simple reason that they had invested too much into defeating neighbours Hanover in a local derby one Sunday afternoon in April 2014.

Something similar might happen to the South and Central American teams meeting each other in this World Cup. I only read about the last Copa América in the papers since I would not get up at midnight to watch them play – which may be a mistake, after all, but then I am also glad when I don’t have to resist the temptation any more to watch international football. Anyway, most knock-out matches went into penalty shoot-outs, and it was visible yesterday that neither Brazil nor Chile had any energy left systematically to create any chances to win in extra-time. The reporter said that even Brazil only set out to attack at exceptional moments the longer the match lasted. And these are the men used to playing in the local climate, its heat, and humidity! Perhaps, however, things will turn out differently to anyone’s expectations.

In the class I teach where the students had predicted the winner there was one who had gone for Colombia. I can well imagine them winning against Brazil, weak as they are now. We will see what happens at Fortaleza next Friday, and it’s still very much a home game to Brazil.

Sunday, 29th June 2014

21

Another dramatic turnaround, the third for The Netherlands in this World Cup to date, allows them to accede to the quarter-finals, with Coach Louis van Gaal yet again the lucky winner through his substitutes. First Memphis Depay came in to make it their traditional 4-3-3 system with him playing on the left, van Persie in the centre, and Robben on the right. They were able then, being one nil down since that brilliant goal by Giovani dos Santos after 48 minutes, to create corner after corner. Guillermo Ochoa, famous through his legendary saves against Neymar, added one or two fantastic ones to his tally, fighting off Robben’s shot from the right with his right by means of making himself as broad as possible closing off the space between his legs. Before, however, after a corner, he had been able to deflect Vlaar’s volley to the inner post.

       Then, with just under fifteen minutes to spare, when referee Proença from Portugal was about to allow the players what they call a “cooling break” after half an hour of play, van Gaal substituted van Persie by Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, a strong forward who hardly ever plays in tournaments unless either van Persie or Robben are not fit. The Elftal continue to press for the equalizer. There is a chance for Huntelaar, saved by Ochoa. Neither of them knew it would be offside.

The Mexicans now field their star, Javier Hernández from Manchester United, to go for that decisive second goal. The Dutch side continue to press. Robben, who had almost been excluded from play in the first half but for one of its last scenes when as the replay showed he was fouled in the area, again and again accelerates on the right, using not only the one trick he’s credited with but showing his willingness to come back into the match. In the scene when he failed to score, the Mexican defender avoided fouling him, sure that he would cause a penalty which I think is always more difficult for the goalkeeper to save than a situation in open play.

       All the same, after 85 minutes the Dutch are still on the precipice of being eliminated within the next ten minutes, and I decide to change my prediction for the Costa Rica vs. Greece game if the European side succumbs in what the Mexican coach had called their own climate, their heat, and humidity. I cannot recall all the situations leading to corners but it’s clear that the Dutch players are intent on besieging Ochoa’s goal with Huntelaar in place as a classic centre forward. Two minutes from time, Robben kicks another corner headed back into space by Huntelaar where it’s picked up by Sneijder who hits it right-footed into the back of the net with Ochoa far away in the other corner. It’s one a-piece now.

In my heart, I now hope for a complete reversal within the ninety minutes plus additional time rather than another penalty shoot-out. Moreover, a Dutch win of two to one would exactly correspond to my prediction.

       Back in the match, the Dutch with six minutes of play added on attempt to clinch the game. This is visible. As in their early painfully unsuccessful attacking moves in the first half they continue to press the Mexican left with Dirk Kuyt another former forward helping Robben to go for goal. With three minutes of additional time gone, Robben cannot be stopped in the first place. He runs towards the goal-line, turns, trying to move around Rafael Márquez who cannot but fell him. He’s awarded the second yellow card, and the referee finally awards the Elftal a penalty. The reporter sees Robben’s refusal to take it before discovering that Huntelaar has his hands on the ball. In Bundesliga, where he plays for Schalke 04, Huntelaar has missed five in twelve attempts, so it’s quite a risk he’s taking.

       I only wish him luck, and, in fact, he converts the penalty, with Ochoa in the right hand corner far away from the ball. Two or three minutes later, with Mexico, who had been so close to breaking the deadlock of five eliminations in the round of the last 16, trying in vain to approach the goal of Jasper Cillessen, Proença blows the final whistle, and the party of the Oranjes can go on for another six days when they meet the winner of tonight’s match of Costa Rica vs. Greece.

       Some things cannot easily be understood: Why did the Dutch play such a passive part in the first half? Was this done on purpose in order to be on top in the second half? Why did the Mexicans, who had been so close to beating the Dutch, not go for a second with more determination, rather than sacrificing their best forward for tactical reasons until it was almost too late to score another goal because the Elftal had begun to control the match completely?

       Unlike Brazil’s win in yesterday afternoon’s match, this turnaround wasn’t just luck, since it was owing to two players’ bad luck that the hosts won their game. First Gonzalo Jara had beaten his goalkeeper for Brazil’s lead. Then Mauricio Pinilla in time added on to the second half of extra-time hit the bar. In the penalty shoot-out, the latter allowed Cesar to save his shot, while the former in the ultimate penalty hit the right post of the same goal missed by Pinilla several minutes before.

       Dutch happiness tonight is based on both lucky moments and on hard work, tactical as well as physical. Brazil’s happiness for the next few days depends on yet another feat of lucky punches when facing Colombia, a team that unlike Mexico was able to hold on to and extend a lead. There are now two teams in the quarter-finals with four straight victories to date: the Netherlands and Colombia. Both have at least one if not two clearly visible stratagems of playing football. This is one advantage they share as opposed to hosts Brazil who only seem strong when they have taken the lead. Their only player never willing to give up trying, Hulk, however, failed with his penalty in the shoot-out. This may well seem ominous.

Sunday, 29th June, after the first match, 8.40 p.m.

 

***

Having supper in the kitchen, doing the day’s washing up, reflecting on the games seen and those to come, I cannot but think of Germany’s lucky two to one win at Montpellier in the 1998 World Cup, also in the round of the last 16 when Mexico played extremely well, better even, I think, than today, taking the lead in the second half before Klinsmann and Bierhoff scored one each. At the time, the Mexicans missed a lot more chances than they did today, and this also characterized their performance in the opening match to the South African World Cup in 2010.

This year, their team appeared to be able to “write history”, as the reporter never tired of quoting their motto. As things are, I won’t change my prediction for tonight’s clash of Costa Rica vs. Greece who are reputed to have found their feet through Otto Rehhagel’s period as coach which in 2004 culminated in their winning the Euro in Portugal. Incidentally, that was not only Cristiano Ronaldo’s first and only final with his national side, the Portuguese were also coached by Luiz Felipe Scolari who had won the World Cup with Brazil two years earlier and who now once again coaches the Seleção. Is the fact that Ronaldo has already returned home to be seen as ominous for Brazil’s own lot in their home World Cup? Are they going to lose to yet another outsider team?

Momentarily, in The Netherlands vs. Mexico tie, I imagined a second match of Brazil vs. Mexico, which could have been in the final, just as they had met in the London Olympic Final two years ago. My idea was that history repeats itself, with Mexico snatching victory yet again. It was not to be since the Dutch managed to turn around their third in four games. The Central and South American coaches should stop claiming the climate to be theirs.

Sunday, 29th June, before the start of the second match, 9.45 p.m.

22

A witness of the first 45 minutes of Costa Rica vs. Greece, I thought it would certainly remain a close match even if one side took the lead. Unlike Uruguay or Italy whom I had watched play Costa Rica unsuccessfully, Greece fielded a close-knit team. Unwilling to give up a single ball, with the result that their equalizer came in time added on to the second half, as I heard in the 5.40 a.m. World Cup news flash. Fortunately, for Costa Rica, they have keeper Keylor Navas who saves a penalty by Gekas. They win the shoot-out by five goals to three, which means I ought to have changed my prediction, regardless of the outcome of the Dutch match.

       Now there’s happiness reigning supreme in Costa Rica until they meet the Dutch Elftal on Saturday in the last of the four quarter-finals. So far it is only winners of their groups to have imposed themselves in the “semi-finals” of this year’s South American and Europe vs. Central America championships. I wonder whether in tonight’s clashes of Africa vs. Europe it’ll be either France or Germany or both or neither who are able to beat their rivals for the first time. A colleague told me to have gone for all the first-placed sides in the round of the last 16.

       It’s a historic feat for two African sides to have reached the knock-out stage. Colombia and Costa Rica are already two outsiders to have inscribed their country’s names in the history of the World Cup. My own guide predicted a quarter-final of Brazil vs. Colombia. For them, however, it would also have been Spain vs. Italy. Now we all know better. Neither the Dutch nor the Costa Ricans were on their chart for the last eight.

       Playing for German clubs, Robben and Huntelaar were certain to be interviewed by German TV. Before them, it was Dirk Kuyt who, a very sympathetic character, I find, spoke in English about winning in an amazing way. For once, there was no interpreter available, so that we could follow all he said before the journalist did a grosso modo translation, conveniently omitting to say that Kuyt said it was “amazing”, winning in the last five minutes.

Ever ready to play right, left, or centre, whether as a defender or up front, Kuyt in his 100th appearance for the Elftal was perhaps factually the most valuable player fielded by van Gaal. My friend in York later said to have always fancied Kuyt at Liverpool where they sent him away, saying he was finished. They ought to have thought of Gerrard who, however, lost them the league title with a simple technical mistake, something that ought to have disqualified him for the England team. He stayed on, and England went home after three games, whereas Kuyt can hope for more.

Characteristically, it was Robben, acting captain after van Persie had been substituted, who stated that the third tactical move had been to put Mexico under pressure with four forwards, including Kuyt. So they had actually played in three formations: first, they miserably failed to tempt Mexico to commit mistakes with the 5-3-2 defensive formation. Once one nil down, they changed it to their customary 4-3-3, with Depay on the left, van Persie in the centre, and Robben on the right. Finally, with Huntelaar on the pitch, they had Depay and Robben on the wings, with Huntelaar and Kuyt pressing for chances in the centre.

A colleague asked me why van Gaal had not left van Persie on the pitch. I could only remember that in the 2010 World Cup he hadn’t at all been in harmony with Robben, and surely Huntelaar and van Persie have never played well together, so it’s either one or the other, depending on the tactical requirements.

       The headlines on Monday stress the moments of luck, while the Mexican coach calls the result “unfair”, and they term Huntelaar the late hero of the match. He, however, in the interview reveals Robben’s part in charging him with the conversion of the penalty. In fact, Robben had done all to make it happen before passing the responsibility for the crucial kick of the day to the striker who had been playing for barely fifteen minutes.

Monday, 30th June 2014, on the train to Norden

 


[1] Thanks are due here to David Pierce (York) for kindly giving me a copy of this DVD.



 

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